A puppy's experiences when they're young will help shape how they learn and develop for the rest of their life. This is why it's so important for dog owners to safely socialise their dogs from an early age, in many different situations and with different people too.
The most critical period for socialisation takes place in the first four months of your dog's life, so if you're in those early stages, or are unsure how to approach this topic, here are four tips you can use to help socialise your dog.
The Puppy Socialisation Process
The puppy socialisation process should be all about creating positive experiences for your new pup. With the following tips you should be able to guide your dog through the socialisation period allowing them to safely interact with puppies, adult dogs and other animals.
Tip #1: Find Out What Motivates Your Dog
Figuring out what motivates your dog is important when it comes to socialisation. Pet owners should use reward-based methods so that their puppy is set up to succeed.
They can then be rewarded with a particular food, treats, a toy, or you can give them attention or pats.
- Food - Use high-value food rewards
- Toys - Reward them with their favourite toy from your house
- Attention - Eye contact, talking and praising your dog
- Pats - Petting your dog
You should reward your dog for successful socialisation interactions. This is a much more effective training method than punishing your dog for undesirable behaviour.
Tip #2: Explore Dog Socialisation Training
Consider enrolling your dog in puppy school or training classes for socialisation. This can allow them to learn and interact in a safe environment alongside a qualified dog trainer and other puppies their own age.
Positive socialisation plays an important part in your puppy's ongoing development and your puppy should be rewarded in class to reinforce those skills. This is why you may need to know what motivates your puppy before you attend your first class (see above).
Attending puppy classes can also help your dog interact with other dogs outside dog parks, which you should avoid until after completing your puppy's full course of vaccinations.
Tip #3: Introduce Your Dog to New Things
You should introduce your puppy to as many different people and experiences as possible. These experiences must be in controlled environments and help your new puppy create a positive association when another person or dog passes.
Make sure you reward your puppy if they remain calm when another person or dog approaches to ensure that it was a positive experience.
If your puppy becomes worried by another person or dog approaching, first reassure them that they are safe. Swiftly remove them from the situation and attempt it again when they are more comfortable.
You must continue to expose them to situations safely and positively so that they can learn to cope and interact with other dogs, including puppies and older dogs, as well as humans.
You should also try to introduce your puppy to a range of different sights, smells, objects, surfaces, sounds, experiences and skills. Again, forming positive associations with these types of activities will evoke a better experience for your puppy.
These types of experiences may include:
- Sights and objects – Dress up in different clothing and showcase a new and interesting object each time.
- Surfaces – Take your dog for a walk across a range of surfaces including concrete, grass, pavement, wood, ramps and more.
- Sounds – Play playlists of everyday sounds like household appliances, cars, birds and other animals, an adult dog barking, wind and more.
- Experiences – Take your puppy through a range of experiences like getting used to touch, getting used to driving in the car, walking around pet stores and playing with toys.
Always remember to keep these situations positive and short so that you don't overwhelm your puppy. Try to only introduce one to two new things and reward them if they stay calm throughout the experience.
Tip #4: Discuss Dog Socialisation with Your Vet
If your dog has difficulty socialising or is excessively shy or aggressive then discussing this with your vet may be the next step. Your vet can let you know how they want to support your puppy's learning and development in a special behavioural consult.
Depending on your puppy's behaviour your vet may recommend that you spend some more time with a specialised puppy trainer or that you should consider getting professional help from a qualified veterinary behaviourist.
Please keep in mind that if your puppy growls in a new social experience it doesn't necessarily mean they're being naughty or aggressive. A growl often means that this is your puppy's way of saying that they've had enough. If this is a concern though then you should try to speak to your vet as soon as you can.
When considering how to socialise your dog here's what you should remember:
- Find out what motivates your dog so that you can reward them during positive social experiences.
- Enrolling your dog in puppy school or training classes is a great way to encourage socialisation in a controlled environment before they are fully vaccinated.
- Other dogs, people, places, surfaces, sights, sounds and smells should be introduced to your new puppy one at a time so that they don't feel overwhelmed and form a positive association with that experience instead.
- Please consult your vet immediately if you're worried about your puppy's socialisation progress.
- While we won’t pay for any training, socialisation or puppy school, Budget Direct’s Pet Insurance can give you peace of mind if your accident-prone puppy gets sick or injured.